Publish first, correct if necessary?

To give an indication: In the last 60 seconds, there were posted around 293.000 Facebook status updates, 433.000 Tweets were sent and over 5 million videos were viewed on Youtube (Qmee, 2014). Maybe you find this numbers already fascinating, but look at them again and think about the following: all these numbers repeat every 60 seconds of every single day of the year and do increase enormously fast (Qmee, 2004). We do not only use it for the fun and entertainment, but we also use it to gather and create news. The ability for anyone to upload content has not only effect on our daily lives, but also on journalism (Silverman, 2013).

Verification of user generate content
Most of the time we share innocent content about our lives, but sometimes we play the role of an ‘accidental journalist’. Everybody who is just at the right place and the right time to recording a news event, can take this role (Silverman, 2013). For the real journalist, who has no access to the place of the event, is the content of the accidental journalist more valuable than the accidental journalist probably thought at first. Before the journalist can use the content, he has to check if the content is correct. Silverman (2013) describes four elements, which are important to check and confirm:

  • Provenance: Is it possible to confirm the authenticity of the piece of content?
  • Source: Is it possible to confirm the source?
  • Data: Is it possible to confirm the date of the event?
  • Location: Is it possible to confirm the location?

In the reality it is relatively rare that all of these elements provide a clear answer (Silverman, 2013). At the end, it relies always on the editorial decision whether to use the piece of content or not (Silverman, 2013). In the next paragraph this last decision will be discussed by an example of Tweets of Dutch Jihadists in Syria.

Dutch Jihadists murdered in Syria
Since the first video from the IS of the beheading of James Foley August last year, are much Western countries in the grip of the news of the situation in Syria. Also in the Netherlands you can read some news about the activities in Syria every week. On September 23 several Dutch newspapers and channels published an article about killed Dutch Jihadists in Syria (De Volkskrant, 2014; Nieuwsuur, 2014; Telegraaf, 2014; NOS, 2014). In the article of the news organisation NOS was this news primarily based on the following report on Twitter:

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 09.43.54

In this tweet Muhajiri Sháám claimed that at least a Dutch Mujahideen and martyrs were killed during the airstrikes on his location in West Aleppo. As mentioned before, Silverman (2013) suggests that the verification process consists of checking four elements (provenance, source, data and location). Silverman (2013) set up several questions to check these four elements. Some of them are:

  • Can you identify the person who shared/uploaded the UGC, and contact them for more information?
  • When was the first version of it uploaded/filmed/shared?
  • Can you identify the location? Was the UGC geotagged?
  • Are any websites linked from the content?

After September 23 the account of Muhajiri Sháám has been suspended, so at the moment of this writing, it was no longer possible to verify his account and the content that he had written. However, in the article on September 23 of NOS (the biggest news organisation of the Netherlands) they already said that they could not confirm that Muhajiri Sháám was really stationed in Aleppo. They only could say that he did more report in the days before September 23. Based on that information the NOS decided to place the Tweet and wrote an article about it, called: Jihadist mentioned on Twitter that Dutch Jihadists are killed. Later that day, several authorities confirmed that indeed three Dutch Jihadists were killed during the airstrikes (De Volkskrant, 2014; Nieuwsuur, 2014; Telegraaf, 2014).

This situation raises some questions. Why should the NOS places that content, while it is not confirmed at all? In this case the authority could confirm the news later on the day, but what if they could not? Rumours and misinformation are fundamental characteristics of emergency situations (Silverman, 2013). Especially in this case of the tweeting Dutch Jihadist, it would have been wrong news about a topic that already was loaded with anxiety. In my opinion the news broadcast organisations have the role to prevent the people for rumours and unnecessary anxiety. Unfortunately, if we have to belief the results of a research about the impact of social media from ING among an international group of 165 journalists and 186 PR professionals, most journalists are not thinking the same about it (ING, 2014). The results of that research shows that a large number of journalists (80%) do not check the facts before they publish an article (ING, 2014). Hopefully, the trend of ‘publish first, correct if necessary’ will blows over soon and will certainly not be the new mantra among journalists.

Literature

ING (2014). 2014 Study impact of social media on news: more crowd-checking, less fact-checking. Retrieved from: http://www.ing.com/Newsroom/All-news/NW/2014-Study-impact-of-Social-Media-on-News-more-crowdchecking-less-factchecking.htm

Nieuwsuur (2014). Ook drie Nederlandse jihadisten dood bij aanval. Retrieved from: http://nieuwsuur.nl/video/701983-ook-drie-nederlandse-jihadisten-dood-bij-aanval.html

NOS (2014). Jihadist meldt Nederlandse doden op Twitter. Retrieved from: http://nos.nl/op3/artikel/701749-jihadist-meldt-nederlandse-doden-op-twitter.html

Qmee (2014). Online in 60 seconds – A year later. Retrieved from: http://blog.qmee.com/online-in-60-seconds-infographic-a-year-later/#comments

Silverman, G. (2013). Verification handbook. Retrieved from: http://verificationhandbook.com/

Telegraaf (2014). Nederlandse doden bij luchtaanvallen Syrië. Retrieved from: http://www.telegraaf.nl/binnenland/23113917/__Nederlandse_doden_bij_luchtaanvallen_Syrie__.html

Volkskrant (2014). Drie Nederlandse jihadisten gedood in Syrië. Retrieved from: http://www.volkskrant.nl/binnenland/drie-nederlandse-jihadisten-gedood-in-syrie~a3753106/

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6 thoughts on “Publish first, correct if necessary?

  1. Interesting topic of your blog! I think that the number of messages indeed decreases the quality of a large part of those messages. You indeed need to be careful with what you read on the internet. It’s nice how you apply the theoretical framework on a particular case with the help of a tweet. I also think that every important journalistic source should check whether news is confirmed before they post it online.

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  2. I agree with you that news sources have to check if the tweets they used are credible. Maybe the NOS could have looked for more tweets about the subject to verify if the source was legit. I also believe it is very dangerous to upload misinformation. Fear and anxiety will spread and it is really difficult to stop this. On the other hand, news travels fast. If the news agencies are not on top of it, it will reach the public via social media. So what choice do journalists really have. If they fact check everything they will behind on the news. But if they don’t there is a risk they spread false information. I think it is a difficult subject.

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  3. Nice blogpost! I think a news article about this topic is a very hard one. The NOS did not know if the tweet could be verified at all, because of the situation in Syria. Despite this, the news is very important and if true it might be a big shock for many people. The NOS chose to be up to date instead of waiting for a verification, which I think is a logic choice. In their title “Jihadist mentioned on Twitter that Dutch Jihadists are killed” they already mention that it’s not a fact and still uncertain that this event happend. If the NOS would have published an article with a title like “Dutch Jihadists killed”, I would have agreed with you. In this case I’m not sure about that…

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    • The thing that I would like to point out in my blogpost is more about the fact that the NOS pretend to be the most trustworthy news organisation in NL, but even they publish news that is firstly based on unverified sources. They are, in my opinion, in the position to wait a little longer and publish later on the day the right information. When I think of an organisation like nu.nl or something like that, I wouldn’t be so surprised when they firstly use unverified sources.

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  4. I like the question that you discuss in the article. It is indeed very hard to verify all the information from social media, especially when you are a journalist working under time pressure. The Syria case is a good example where you show that a rumour is sometimes all that one has. NOS is known as a reliable source, so most people will immediately believe there news updates. In this case, the tweet was the reason for the news article which is a not a very reliable reason to publish it. The least a media source can do is mention that the news is not 100% verified. But that raises another question namely: should one publish something when they know not all the facts are verified?

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  5. Very interesting topic and indeed hard to verify. I didn’t know about it, unfortunately but I did some reading now.
    Your post challenges people to question the trustworthiness of professionals which is a good thing, at the end of the day, given the fact that we are fed with all kinds of stories 24/7. People have more access to information and why not use this access to improve the quality of information we receive?

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